Getting a job at an investment bank in the U.S. is getting more difficult. You’ll need to complete multiple internships, participate in finance clubs and leadership activities, earn impeccable grades and create the perfect resume for investment banking before you’ll get a full-time offer at an IBD.
Over the past five years, nearly 7,000 front-office investment banking jobs have disappeared, the majority in the fixed income, currencies and commodities (FICC) divisions. The top 12 investment banks cut 2,200 staff last year, up from a mere 800 in 2015, according to research firm Coalition. Despite optimistic forecasts for 2017, there is likely to be more pain on the way at certain banks in divisions that are lagging behind competitors.
Cover letters are important, but your resume is at least equally so. Here are some tips to make it as perfect as possible so you can get a front-office investment banking job on Wall Street.
The first word after each bulletpoint that encapsulates your professional accomplishments has to jump off the page.
More junior candidates may want to highlight impressive test scores, whether that's the ACT or the College Board’s SAT or AP exams.
Candidates of all experience levels will want to make a point of touting their reputable university or college degree – the more prestigious the better.
“Firms want those that have the networks they can leverage when putting deals together,” said Lisa Rangel, executive resume writer at Chameleonresumes.com. “Top-tier schools and well-networked universities will be very desirable to investment banking firms.”
A high GPA – anything more than 3.8 – is also worth mentioning.
“The bottom line is top-tier investments banks want to see high GPAs,” she said.
If you achieved honors such Phi Beta Kappa or Magna Cum Laude or have any certifications like the CFA or Finra licenses like the Series 7, make sure you list all of them, because the prospective employer could be screening for any of them.
If you have it, then flaunt it. If you don’t, then you better shore up your resume to emphasize other impressive assets.
A major that is relevant to investment banking is also recommended. That’s not to say that your major has to be the obvious finance, business, accounting or tax specialty.
“If you have an international relations major with a minor in East Asian Studies and want to work for a Wall Street firm where frequent travel to Hong Kong is required, that can be very appealing to the potential employer,” Rangel said. “It's about relevancy and value you bring to the table.”
Have you worked with high-profile clients? List what you did for them, as long as you are not violating non-disclosure agreements or corporate policies. In a factual, pragmatic manner, explain what impressive work you did for notable employers and clients.
It’s not enough to say you performed a function or had a role. Banks want to know how well you did while doing that function.
“You raised capital? Well, how much, how fast and with whom?” Rangel said. “The details matter.”
“Don’t be vague when talking about your accomplishments, be specific,” agrees Alyssa Gelbard, the founder and president of Resume Strategists. “Mention the number of potential acquisitions you vetted, the number of deals you researched, how many went into due diligence, and the percentage that actually went through."
You want to be showing your value and expertise in investment banking, so if you have specific experience, then you should include it. Make sure you’re not just focused on your most recent role.
“If you have compliance, data analysis or accounting experience, or if you’ve been involved in an IPO, or if you have specific M&A experience, you want to make sure you include that,” Gelbard said. “Have you served in a special committee? Many times you’re appointed to those roles – be sure to mention it.
“If you have buy-side and sell-side experience, make sure that’s clear, because it’s a good marketable quality,” she said.
Making sure a resume for investment banking is mistake-free sounds obvious, but many people, even highly intelligent, accomplished ones, have fallen into the typo trap. It might not even be a spelling or grammar mistake, though. Even a formatting issue can get you disqualified.
“A variety of people might give the resume a look as the list is narrowed down to a few candidates,” says Gelbard. “You want to make sure it’s edited thoroughly and formatted meticulously.”
Especially in the financial services sector, details really matter, since most roles are focused on analyzing numbers.
“Make sure you’re really clear and consistent, because if a hiring manager sees a mistake here, then they’ll think you could make other mistakes on the job,” she said. “They want someone who pays attention to details.”
Speak the audience’s language. The financial industry has a unique jargon, and striking the right balance of plain English and a few key buzzwords can establish that you’re in-the-know.
The more candidates can prove by their use of language that they are an industry insider, the more the reader will understand and value what they bring to the table.
“Don’t go so far that it’s alphabet soup, but speaking the language that is unique to the industry is important,” said Amy Adler, executive resume writer, career coach and founder of Five Strengths Career Transition Experts. “Hiring managers have to know that [candidates] are insiders, because there will be less on the job training and risk.”
That said, don’t go overboard. If you veer into cliché, then it can be a major turnoff.
“Be careful of using too much jargon,” Gelbard said. “If you were part of a company that uses its own jargon, make sure it’s something that is understood by everyone so that it’s a level playing field.”
Pull keywords and phrases from job postings, blog posts and articles on the areas in investment banking that you want to be in. Use the phrases that are relevant to your areas of expertise to describe your accomplishments. This is key to getting through the applicant tracking systems (ATS).
“Kick off your document with most notable, relevant achievements to grab the reader’s attention,” Rangel says.
While two pages is acceptable for more senior candidates, students and early-career-stage professionals should keep their resume to a single page if at all possible. You can’t have more than two pages under any circumstances.
“Be careful about length, and make sure it’s not too long,” Gelbard said. “You don’t want to have so much information there that people miss the main points.”
You have to know how to summarize effectively with bulletpoints that utilize active verbs.
“A resume is not an accounting of everything you’ve ever done in every job,” Gelbard said. “Take the things that are most relevant to where you want to go – highlight your expertise that relates to the [investment banking] role specifically.”
When telling a story around the watercooler or campfire, playing fast and loose with the facts is expected, even encouraged. However, prevarications or untruths in a resume for investment banking, even if you wouldn’t consider them a lie per se, can come back to haunt you.
Stretching the truth can backfire in a very bad way for a candidate and lead to a complete loss of your reputation and credibility.
“Don’t exaggerate the value of a deal or the size of a company, because you don’t know who’s reviewing the resume,” Gelbard said. “It could be someone who was on the other side of the deal."
Photo credit: Piotr Marcinski_iStock_Thinkstock